THE KIND OF UNIVERSITY EDUCATION THAT NIGERIA ACTUALLY NEEDS TO DEVELOP ITSELF
PROF. SULE BELLO
This is in response to an address delivered by Mallam Haroun Adamu to the graduating students of American University of Nigeria (AUN) on May 16th 2010, published in the Daily Trust News Paper of Monday, July 6th 2020.
The address under reference titled “Nigeria Needs You” raises very many important issues, directly as well as indirectly, which deserve to engage the minds of all those concerned with the development of Nigeria. In fact engagement on the theme of this address will actually, and invariably, tend to raise the wider topic of “The Kind of University Education That Nigeria Actually Needs to Develop Itself” – in line with the title of this response. The presenter of the address, Mal. Haroun Adamu, is a xvery well known critic, public commentator and concerned academic. The issues he raises in his address, therefore, deserve to be given the due attention, and broader appreciation, that they deserve.
Out of the many important issues raised by the author I have chosen to highlight only three critical ones. This is because significant, original and informed evaluation of them will more than help the country to steer itself out of the woods, in terms of its educational policies and programmes, in order for it to embark on a more purposive, self-determined and fruitful journey to nation-building. These are, in the first place, a clearer definition of the role of education in the development of the nation, in terms of its independence, purposes, scope, content, organisation and more effective delivery.
The second issue of importance raised in the address is the specific role that university education needs to play in national development – particularly in the form of the training of manpower, as well as through original researches and knowledge production such that will support processes of social acculturation and policy development for the nation. This is thus a very critical level that is expected to provide the subsisting philosophical underpinnings defining our national visions, constitutional principles, public policies and the kind of “national psychology” governing our development as a country. Such knowledge also underpins our abiding socio-cultural relations as well as technological capabilities. It is in this regard that a few things, among a number of many others, need to engage our attention.
Thirdly, as the writer alluded to, there is a sense in which modern universities, as national institutions, do constitute the basic brain-power not only for the solution of the identified problems of the nation but also for the formulation, and execution, of its national visions and programmes. Universities are also very critical to the promotion of the range of human resourcefulness defining our national creative capabilities, in the most original and intimate sense of the word. It is for these reasons that the local studies of every nation’s general as well as unique humanitarian, socio-cultural and historical characteristics are of supreme importance, since in a number of cases these also tend to define the manner in which, as well as why, the physical, environmental, social, and technological arts, in addition to the sciences, are in turn studied.
A cursory survey of the relationship between various national universities and the modern nation-states to which they belong demonstrates very distinct associations in connection with the study of past socio-cultural heritages and the cultivation, as well as development, of the modern politico-economic structures of such nations. Thus our national universities too must be seen to reflect, as well as promote, such intrinsic socio-historical relationships. This is why it is imperative for us to be able to define, denote and significantly promote a clearer understanding of what constitutes a Nigerian, or indeed an African, University beyond the simple names with which we usually label them. This is indeed even more significant given the fact that a few influential Nigerians, at the helm of our national affairs, have developed a penchant for establishing and operating American Universities in Africa, and Nigeria, even when and where there is no clear definition of the purposes, or functions, of such imported versions of universities or, indeed, that of African or Nigerian universities. The priority need for properly defining, supporting and promoting Nigerian universities lies in the fact that they will not only be racy to the soil, as well as tailor-made to the solution of our own problems, but they will also constitute the major cultural instruments for the purposive promotion of cooperation with other African countries. Similarly such self-made, and nationally rooted, universities will also serve as our most original contributions to, as well as bases for, cooperation with the rest of the world.
There is therefore the need for Nigerian elites in general, and its political leaders in particular, to dedicate themselves towards creating and promoting local universities that are also distinguished by their emphasis on our unique heritages, problems, visions and aspirations in the world of knowledge as a whole. While we cannot discount associations with other parts of the world we, more than anybody else, have the duty to develop our own national universities which are greatly focused on our common achievements, problems and futures in line with the visions of our founding fathers.
The inability to root our worldviews, as well as developmental perspectives, on independent, original and objective bases, rather than dependent colonial mentalities, is the key problem impeding the development of our peoples, nations and the African region in general. The problems of nation-building, noted above, thus constitute the most significant backdrop against which our educational objectives are to be measured and assessed.
The author identifies the problem of Nigeria as the fact that “Nigeria is a wealthy and fortunate country in many many ways. But we Nigerians are not working well enough or hard enough to enrich Nigeria and Nigerians”. The problem of Nigeria is thus basically seen to be Nigerians themselves. Nigerians are their own problem, the author further emphasises, because their leaders lack vision, while both the leaders and the followers also lack discipline. This kind of argument or tautology, as an explanation for Nigeria’s contemporary crises of development, has become a cliché that is widely and uncritically touted even though it is not supported by either facts or logic. The difference, for example, between Malaysia and Nigeria which is usually given in terms of one type of leadership quality or another is misleading. The problem is much more than a simple question of the discipline, or individual capabilities, of given leaders. It is primarily one of independent and continuous commitment to nation-building on the bases of self-determined, constitutional, sovereign and purposive national goals, or the absence and negation of same. This is the key factor underlying the capacity of every modern nation-state to determine its own destiny without the undue influence, or intervention and control, of hostile interests from both internal and external sources. From this perspective the manner in which disruptive local military interventions, coupled with associated foreign interventionism, have tended to hijack the entire processes of self-determined planning and development from the nationalist leaders responsible for the achievement of the independence of the country, constitute the single most important explanation for Nigerias present conditions. The view that the problem of the country is merely a problem of ‘governance’ in the form of mismanagement and corruption is a misnomer because it tends to over look, or evade, the fact that our current ruling policies are neither national nor self-determined but rather imposed through the tutelage of World Bank and the IMF, as well as the related foreign powers for which the latter operate. The cliché that problems of nations like Nigeria are only the outcome of local mismanagement, without any reference to the more significant damage done by foreign intervention in Africa, is the view-point of Euro-American imperial establishments in general, and that of the IMF and world Bank in particular, which are promoted by local and surrogate interest groups in Africa and the wider world. They are not only ideological they indeed aim to cover up the association of these powers to the poverty and crises prevalent in Africa and other parts of the world.
To illustrate the above observations it is enough to note that the tendency to wild generalisations on the nature of Nigeria’s problem as failed leadership tends to ignore the successful role of earlier Nigeria’s nationalist leaders in successfully fighting for independence, as well as pioneering sovereign and self-determined processes of development for the nation under the First Republic and, to a large extent, the second Republic.
In short the key problem of Nigeria is that its nationalist process of development, which is akin to the very process that defines the independent successes of all modern and developed nation-states was truncated, giving way to a debilitating foreign intervention process under the tutelage of the IMF and the World Bank in association with other powerful foreign interests through the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and other such surrogate undertakings.
In this regard what Nigeria needs are leaders with the necessary vision to re-store and promote an independent process of national, as well as constitutional, development on a sustainable, integrated and PanAfrican basis.
It was noted in the authors address that: “the AUN University is designed to mould leaders” This observation calls for some clarifications on what type of leaders Nigeria needs, and for what purposes? Clearly, where there is no definite association between university education and the central need for sovereign nation-building processes there is bound to be a number of problems. For example nowhere in the address are the requirements, and objectives, of nation-building referred to as critical factors in the training of the leaders being moulded. If Nigerian universities are to mould potentially capable Nigerian leaders what nature of curricula do we require to make this possible? Could American universities in Nigeria truly and effectively mould Nigeria’s leaders? If the answer to this is in the affirmative, with reference to the AUN for example, then what adjustments and modifications do we need in order to ensure the performance of such functions? Not only do we not have any clues about the need, and necessity, for properly defined national universities indeed the characterisation of the future roles of the graduands in itself tends to, to say the least, underplay this very significant issue. For example referring to the future of the graduands the erudite scholar stated that:
“In essence what your instructors at AUN have prepared you for are the challenges that are not solely Nigerian, but in fact you have been tutored and drilled on how to read, analyse and respond to global challenges. This mentoring and scholarship has leapfrogged you ahead of several of your peers in many respect. As an undergraduate from AUN you should see the world as your playing field not just your country or continent”.
If we talk of ‘global challenges’ we need to further ask – global challenges to who? Indeed to what extent could ‘global challenges’ be a substitute for national challenges? Could this stance not be describing the graduands as essentially rootless, if not downright mercenary? Shouldn’t our national and continental needs, or problems, define our preoccupations as graduates for the immediate benefits of our peoples, in addition to defining the nature of our own activities and functions in the global playing, or battle, field?
We also need to focus on the viewpoints, as well as achievements, of our national forebears so as to use them as important mileposts in approaching the future. In the address one would have wished to see some references to great Nigerian, and African, leaders considered worthy of emulation in terms of the causes they had championed for the development of Nigeria. On the contrary all the references in the address do not only tend to be drawn from remote American poets and statesmen, to the exclusion of Nigerian and African philosophers, nationalists and PanAfricanists, they also tend to pander to an abstract notion of a “globe” which has no specific connections to the graduands in any particular sense.
Similarly, in identifying the relevant facts or data to demonstrate the “failings” of Nigerians, the author also made a few methodological errors. In the first place he generalised the entire leadership of Nigeria, from the struggle for independence to date, as failed without recognising the fact that some leaders succeeded while some others failed – in addition to the fact that certain others still only functioned as predators and surrogates for foreign powers. As a result of this omission the fundamental reasons accounting for either the failure, or success, of certain leaders in the development of the country are reduced to the stereotype that there is simply a so-called general “leadership failure”. As a result this becomes a convenient and fraudulent formula for condemning nationalists and patriotic leaders as well as covering up bad, treacherous and corrupt leaders under a general term which hardly designates and indict those concerned in the manner they deserve. There is thus, necessarily, the selection of certain “facts”, to the exclusion of other more significant facts and events which demonstrate the successes of certain leaders, in order to uphold this stereotype of “general leadership failure” as a basis for such a discourse.
Finally it is also important to draw attention to the fact that when, in the address, the graduands were called upon to make promises to their nation there were no specific demands of loyalty, patriotism or constitutionalism and the relevant manner in which these should be approached, or handled, in the light of the persistent problems of the nation. On the contrary the author once again proceeded to generalise on the basis of generational differences, rather than by identifying the relevant, credible and exemplary leadership roles that are required at the level of parties or individuals. In other words the required national leadership responsibilities, and examples, that are of critical importance to the national tasks ahead – beyond the issues that are simply of personal consideration, or interests, to the students themselves.
It is important therefore to stress the fact that what Nigeria truly needs are leaders with a nationalist vision who are committed to constitutionalism designed to promote inclusive citizenship, as well as human rights, on the basis of the independent development of the country through its integration with other African states. This needs to constitute the principal basis of our educational objectives as well as the focus of our patriotic leaders.
Prof. Sule Bello is a lecturer at the Department of History, A.B.U Zaria and The Chairman, National Response Initiative (NRI), Kano.
28th July, 2020